Believing in Easter

She had lost her husband of fifty years a few weeks earlier, just four days after Christmas; and in the days that followed, she finally realized how poorly she herself had been feeling. Charlane had been so busy caring for Joe that she hadn’t even noticed.

A few days after visiting the doctor, she received a devastating diagnosis. Nevertheless, she was determined to remain the same joyful, warm, and caring person she had always been, continuing to reach out to others with a smile and a generosity that left no doubt about Who was by her side through it all. 

It was during this time that I first began bringing Charlane the Eucharist. Within a month her condition deteriorated very quickly, and over the course of just two weeks, she became so bedridden and frail, she was barely able to speak—but, somehow, she was still smiling.

A couple of days before Palm Sunday, I arrived at her apartment and found it so packed with friends that there was hardly any space to stand in the room where she lay, radiant. Many tears (including my own) accompanied the proclamation of the Passion of Our Lord during that Communion service. Charlane, however, beamed ever more brightly. There was no need to comment on the Gospel that day; Charlane’s witness was all the comment any of us needed.

The scene was repeated a week later, on Holy Thursday. But this time, it was the Easter Gospel that was proclaimed to the same group. And this time, Charlane’s joy-filled witness of presence provoked an extraordinary outburst of Spirit among all of us, her friends proclaiming their own experiences of the Risen Christ—who was tangibly alive among us all, even at that very moment, in that very room, amidst those simultaneously heart-breaking and infinitely hope-full circumstances. Stretched out and caught up between both ends of the Paschal Mystery, between His Passion and His Resurrection, we were somehow both in time—and out of time—at the same time.

And we all knew it.

* * *

In her wonderful book, Jesus Risen in Our Midst, Sandra Schneiders, IHM, observes that the erosion of Christian faith today has a lot to do with the fact “that it has become very difficult [for many contemporary believers] to conceive of Jesus, who really died on the cross in the first century, as personally alive and active in the present. As [Cardinal John Henry] Newman once observed, what we believe must be…credible to the imagination.”

I think she’s got a point.

Maybe the “imaginative plausibility” of the Risen Christ was a lot easier for people who lived in a time when hearts could not be transplanted; when genetic material could not be spliced; and when the age and size of the entire universe could not be determined by small metallic spheres launched toward distant stars. Certainly we don’t have absolute control over nature, but we sure can manipulate it a great deal. We have a considerable level of knowledge about our world. We also have a lot of confidence in what we know. And in this world, we know that the dead do not come back to life.

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Yet, our faith tells us that Jesus rose—bodily—from the dead, and lives among us still. Our faith tells us that we will someday rise with him, and in him. It even insists that, at this very moment, the entire cosmos is in the midst of a transformation that will result in a “new heavens and a new earth.” What kind of sense can we make of all this today? How can we even imagine it is possible, given what we now know?

I confess I’ve been wrestling with those sorts of things for years. Perhaps my background as a chemist has disposed me more than most to ask such questions, but then again I suspect that many people wonder about these things. It’s just that very few talk about them! 

So here are some of my thoughts about it all.

Since we profess an incarnational faith, I am convinced there must be some breadcrumb path in the natural world that leads to a place where we would find that the truth of the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and the Eucharist is not only “imaginatively plausible,” but even likely.

And I am similarly convinced that we would find faith to be a foundational pillar and essential element within all this reasoning. We would discover that it is necessary, as Saint Augustine once said, first to believe, in order to understand—and not the other way around.

Now, maybe that sounds strange, but in fact it turns out to be logically consistent with how we understand nature at its most basic, physical level. Scientists tell us that an electron is either a particle or a wave, but cannot be both at the same time. To see an electron at all, we have to decide beforehand which we want to see: a particle, or a wave. Our own choice in this case, the scientists say, literally determines which truth is revealed.

One morning at Mass, as I was pondering such things, all of a sudden I had an insight: if all that I believe in is true (and for me, that is a non-negotiable), then it’s not my theology that is lacking, so much as it is my understanding of the cosmos and how it works. Most people are unaware that this understanding is changing enormously in our own lifetimes.

Changes in one’s “cosmology” (or “universe story”) has always had implications for one’s theology (our understanding of God). In the case of an incarnational faith, i.e., Christianity, this can be especially true. And so the recognition that the universe does not quite operate the way we think it does understandably tends to have a very unsettling effect on people.

Western peoples during the Middle Ages, for example, believed that the heavens were perfect; that the Earth didn’t move; and that humans were at the center of the universe. They operated out of a model of the cosmos that was deeply entwined with their understanding of God’s revelation in Scripture. So when Copernicus suggested that the Sun rather than the Earth was at the center of the universe; when Galileo saw spots on the sun through his telescope; and when the latter’s observations of Venus demonstrated that it actually moved around the Sun (implying Earth did as well), uproars ensued.

Resistance to new insights such as these is not confined only to the Middle Ages. For example, until 1931, Einstein himself resisted the idea that the universe is expanding. But the good news for all of us.who long to make some logical “sense” of what we believe, is this: since the “Book of Creation” is God’s “First Book of Revelation,” we should expect that, as our vision of the universe sharpens, so should our vision of God.

And with God, all things are possible—even resurrection from the dead, even the transformation of the entire universe, and even Jesus still alive and with us, today!

* * *

Human beings will always look for logic. We will always try to make more sense out of our world.

Some might say that we will always search for God as well, but I think our “search” is really the result of our being drawn by God-- ever deeper into Christ, ever deeper into Love.

I guess it just depends on how you decide to see it.

And as much as the “scientist” in me still hopes to discover and connect the “breadcrumbs” in nature that lead us toward deeper understandings of life and love, and of the Divine and the Human, the person I am knows that it is witness (and not sense-making) that is most effective at doing this—witness like that of Charlane (who went to God four days after Easter that year) and countless others, witness that we can choose to give to each other, witness that is made with and in and through our Risen Lord, who is still alive and still among us!

* * *

Many of us put a great deal of energy into preparing for Easter, into those forty days of Lent. If only we would put that same energy, discipline and enthusiasm into celebrating these fifty days of Easter, waking up each morning and pondering how we will make a point of proclaiming this day the Good News that He Is Risen, to anyone with ears to hear!

How can we celebrate this greatest of all feasts??

I think the best celebrations will find us openly and simply sharing our own stories and experiences of faith, of Jesus’ continued presence with us, and the difference he is making in our lives today—with family and friends, with acquaintances and even strangers. Let’s be more enthusiastic, disciplined, and creative about that this year! And maybe we could share what happens when we do that with each other. Please feel free to add your own stories below in the comments section.

And in the meantime, a blessed, joyous Easter to all! Alleluia!

 By Sister Lucy Zientek, CDP

Sr. Lucy Zientek, CDP is Pastoral Associate for Evangelization and Catechesis at St. Ignatius Loyola Church in Cincinnati, Ohio..She also serves as Provincial Councilor for the Sisters of Divine Providence, Melbourne, KY.

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